RIO DE JANEIRO – It was all a bit ridiculous – just not the kind of ridiculous we've come to expect from FIFA.
While the real World Cup in Brazil heads into the quarterfinals, gamers descended on Rio de Janeiro on Thursday for the Grand Final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup, testing their mettle and thumbs against the best virtual soccer enthusiasts on the planet in hopes of winning a $20,000 cash prize.
On Sugar Loaf Mountain. In an amphitheater, with an audience and free beer. With live commentators (Manchester United great Dwight Yorke and renown play-by-play man Alan McInally, to boot). And at least 50 cameras trained on the players' every move. Oh yeah, and Ronaldo.
It was over the top, to be sure.
On July 3, the Rio landmark played host to the bizarre – a culmination of a contest entered by over two million avid online gamers – and FIFA treated it as if it was the actual World Cup final, from cordoned-off leather couch seating for gamers to the executives trotted out to present the trophies to the top three participants.
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It was excessive all the way around, with heightened security fleecing credentialed media at the bottom on the mountain and FIFA personnel demanding waivers be signed as soon as onlookers entered the viewing area.
And Brazilian legend Ronaldo just put the icing on the cake.
"There's always pressure," said Ronaldo when asked how the emotions felt by the joystick warriors would compare to the emotions felt by those on the field.
"Maybe the real final is a little bit different."
That was the FIFA Interactive World Cup – an exercise in excess.
To their credit, the commentators kept the shtick going to the bitter end, doling out play-by-play as if they were being graded on it and doing one heck of a job keeping it upbeat and entertaining. At one point, after a missed opportunity in front of goal, McInally scolded one of the finalists by saying that he'd expect a player on this stage to hit the target every time.
"To get to this level, you have to have a certain level of tactics, strategies," Yorke said just before the final, when the two last men standing were going through formation changes and lineup jiggering.
"It's not an easy level of play."
In the end, August Rosenmeier from Denmark rallied to beat England's David Bytheway to justify all those hours (Days? Months? Years?) spent working on his five-star skill moves and formation strategies. The $20,000 prize is more than enough vindication to gloat about, but Rosenmeier also gets to rub shoulders with soccer greats at next year's presentation of the Ballon d'Or.
Fittingly, it was Neymar – Brazil's current showman and national hero – who landed the death knell against Bytheway's Germany. Rosenmeier ended it with Neymar feinting and juking his way past several open shots in the box before taking a picture-perfect strike into the net for the game-winner – in essence, just prolonging the inevitable with a samba routine.
Yeah, it was ridiculous. But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth watching.